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Monday, 6 November 2017

Trip report for Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek led by Ade Summers and Gopal Tamang in October 2017

Photo: Naar village
In October, we organised our second Naar to Upper Mustang trek along The Great Himalaya Trail (“GHT”) in Nepal. This trek was led by Ade Summers and Gopal Tamang with assistant guides Khumbu and Nima. Ade led this trek six years ago successfully crossing the Teri La and Gopal had also crossed Teri La on a recce trek for us in Summer 2015. Gopal was also the Sirdar of our November 2015 Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek led with Tom Lawson.

In November 2015 our Naar to Upper Mustang GHT group were unable to cross Teri La as a result of too much snow on the rocky slabs on approach to the pass. Instead they diverted over Kang La to Manang followed by Tilicho La over to Jomsom -----> you can read our Trip Report. Therefore when we decided to organise this trek again we changed the dates to start in first week of October to allow for optimal conditions on crossing the pass. The drawback of starting at this time of year is the heat & humidity for first few days however as one starts approach to Naar village the temperature starts to cool off making for more pleasant walking conditions.

Our October 2017 group had fine weather with clear and sunny conditions, for some days there was afternoon cloud however there was no significant precipitation. We will keep the same dates for future treks as this is the optimal time of year to cross Teri La.  Ade describes the weather and conditions as follows:  “Perfect weather could not have been better. No snow on the pass or anywhere really. Great conditions.”
Photo: approach to Teri La
Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and we send these onto Ade by text to the satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.


This year for our Naar to Mustang GHT there were six trekkers in the group coming from USA, UK and Canada. The group arrived in Kathmandu on October 5th and next day Ade gave his trek briefing to the group on the lovely roof top at Hotel Tibet and I also attended. With this itinerary we have the second day of the trip in Kathmandu for briefings and kit checks, we also use this time to obtain all of the trekking permits required for the trek.

On October 7th the group drove to Ngadi to start the trek and this took 10 hours from Kathmandu. From this village it takes three days to walk to Koto where this trail diverts off the more popular Annapurna Circuit trek. Feedback received from this group (and Annapurna Circuit too) was that they did not enjoy walking on the section of road to Jagat  as there are fewer options available to walk on New Annapurna Trails (NATs) away from the road.

As a result we have updated this itinerary for future groups, we will change vehicles at Ngadi from our bus to local jeeps then continue the drive to Srichaur. From Srichaur the walk takes about one hour to the village of Jagat where we stay the first night of the trek. Therefore by using a combination of bus, jeep and walking it should be possible to arrive to Dharapani two days after leaving Kathmandu.

Also at the end of the trek on the way out from Lo Manthang we walk the first day to Ghemi and second day to Samar as these days are well worth walking through the spectacular Upper Mustang landscape with visits to interesting monasteries. The next day we take a jeep from Samar to Jomsom (changing vehicle in Chusang). With more roads encroaching in Nepal Himalaya it now makes sense to use jeeps to drive further into and out of the mountains to maximise the time spent up high in the beautiful and remote areas.

On October 11th the fourth day of the trek this itinerary heads north up the deep gorge of the Naar Phu Khola (river). After one night at Meta camp in the pine and bamboo forests at an altitude of 3,250m they walked up to Naar village at 4,100m where they spent two nights for acclimatisation. On October 13th the group left Naar village to start the approach to Teri La pass by following the Lapse Khola (river) valley, staying the first night at a Yak Kharka camp at an altitude of 4,400m. This section of the trail is narrow and steep but everyone made good progress to camp.

On October 14th they continued to a higher camp in the Lapse Khola valley at an altitude of 4,600m, then the next day to walked up to High Camp below the Teri La pass at an altitude of 5,200m. Their day for crossing the pass was fine weather with excellent views and luckily the forecasted high winds did not happen. The conditions on the pass were dry with no snow and they followed the long trail down to their camp at Pasphu Khola camp (4,750m). 

The group commented there were several exposed sections on the descent from Teri La pass so it is necessary for anyone joining this trek to have accurate foot placement while walking and confidence in walking on rocky terrain without a defined trail. There was also a fresh landslide area with larger rocks and boulders to cross and it is likely this may have been caused by the 2015 earthquake.

The feedback received from the leaders and the group was that the days approaching the pass were too long and our altitude of High Camp was lower than the actual height (the correct altitude is 5,200m). Therefore for future Naar to Upper Mustang GHT treks we have added one more camp before the pass at Teri La Base Camp at 4,900m to help with acclimatisation to high altitude and to shorten the days. This is a beautiful valley and having more time in afternoon around camp to explore would be a good option before crossing the pass over to Upper Mustang.

As the crew and group were tired after several long days before and after Teri La pass, Ade decided to have two shorter days walking to Lo Manthang. As the group requested to have two nights in this village to explore north on the way back to Jomsom people took a jeep along the road for some sections.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Ade checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress ----> click here to see the GPS map for Naar to Mustang GHT

As planned the group flew back from Jomsom to Pokhara to Kathmandu on October 27th. I met them on their arrival to Hotel Tibet and we had a very useful debrief meeting, I appreciate the feedback received and we will incorporate this into the planning and organisation for future treks. As mentioned in this Trip Report we have already made changes to Naar to Upper Mustang GHT itinerary for 2018 ----> take a look at TMC website. The trip length is 25 days from Kathmandu. As we take jeeps further up the road on way in and on way out to Jomsom this maximises the time spent up high in the beautiful & remote areas as well as shortening the long days before Teri La to enhance acclimatisation too.

Overall the opinion from Ade and the group was the trail on Naar to Upper Mustang GHT was a beautiful trek passing through a remote area of Nepal and with very few other trekkers around, they saw only one small group of two people after Naar village until arriving to Lo Manthang. It is refreshing to hear that there are still trails in Nepal during the peak month of October that are not too busy with other trekkers like the more popular Everest and Annapurna regions of Nepal.

Thanks very much to Ade and Gopal for their hard work in leading this trek and to the assistant guides, Khumbu and Nima and the cook, Suk Bahadur Rai. The group have all given positive feedback on the food so well done to Suk and his team!

The Mountain Company plans to organise our next Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek in October 2018, please get in touch soon if you like to join this trek.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter
www.themountaincompany.co.uk


Friday, 3 November 2017

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Natalie Wilson and Pema Sherpa in October 2017

Photo: Mt Dhaulagiri seen from French Pass in October 2017 (credit: Natalie Wilson)
In October we organised our 15th trek around Dhaulagiri Circuit in Nepal and out of these 13 groups successfully & safely crossed the passes over to Jomsom. The two years where our groups had to turn back was after Cyclone HudHud in October 2014 and the earthquake in April 2015 ----> you can read all of our Trip Reports for Dhaulagiri Circuit

Our leaders for our October 2017 Dhaulagiri Circuit trek were Natalie, known as Nat, Wilson (UK) and Pema Sherpa (Nepal) and the asssistant guides supporting the group were Sona, Bale and Kancha. We had thirteen people in this group and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Germany, Canada, Australia and Denmark.

The group arrived to Kathmandu on October 8th, in the afternoon Nat gave her group briefing in the garden of Hotel Manaslu and I attended too. On the next day 9th they flew to Pokhara where they spent one night. Nat organised a group meal at Road House restaurant on Lakeside in the evening and I heard everyone enjoyed their time in Pokhara before starting the trek. On morning of 10th they drove by bus to the road head at Beni where they met the crew then walked to their first camp at Babichaur.

Photo: October 2017 group having breakfast at Dharapani (credit: Natalie Wilson)
The trek went well and the group arrived to Italian Base Camp as planned on October 16th. On October 22nd the group crossed French Col into Hidden Valley. I think probably the weather and conditions experienced by this group was the best on any of our previous October treks. Nat sums up below:

"The weather was absolutely fantastic. An hour or so of rain at Sallaghiri, some cold winds and a little snow up high but settled mornings, great views, bit of cloud build up in afternoon."

Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and we sent these onto Nat by text to her satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.


We have carefully designed our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek for acclimatisation and our groups have two nights at Italian Base Camp at 3,660m followed by two nights at Glacier Camp at 4,200m then a further two nights at Dhaulagiri Base Camp at 4,700m. Only with this ascent profile will you have enough time for your body to adapt to the high altitude for safe crossing of the high passes and for sleeping in Hidden Valley at 5,050m.

Photo: Pema Sherpa demonstrating use of PAC bag (credit: Natalie Wilson)
As with all of TMC camping treks we track their progress while in the field through SPOT gps check ins -----> see the map of this trek in SPOT Adventure website

Within our Dhaulagiri Circuit itinerary after crossing the high  passes we fly out from Jomsom to Pokhara and then change planes for the flight back to Kathmandu. During the trek we were informed by Goma Air that they had decided to cancel our confirmed booking for this flight from Jomsom. As this is peak season we tried to rebook onto another airlines however Tara Airlines was full so it looked likely at one stage this group would have to drive from Jomsom to Pokhara down the rough jeep road along Kali Gandaki river. Luckily a few days before the group arrived to Pokhara we managed to book a charter plane from Tara Airlines directly back to Kathmandu. This is the reality of travelling in Nepal and confirmed bookings are not always honoured so it is worth bearing this in mind if you are considering a trip to Nepal! This is adventure travel...

Photo: October 2017 group in Hidden Valley (credit: Natalie Wilson)
Nat summarises her experience leading this group as follows:

"In my opinion Dhaulagiri Circuit is an incredible trip and we were particularly lucky to have better than expected weather every day. We only saw a couple of other groups and had the high camps all to ourselves. I think the group enjoyed it a lot and there were no fitness issues or excessive fatigue or struggle and for the main everyone stayed in good health. We experienced wonderful views and had a good crew with a nice atmosphere. The food was excellent – Sangram and his team did an excellent job. Lots of carbs but balanced out with plenty of veggies, lots of variety. His cakes, chicken curry and chop suey on the last night was absolutely the best yet!"

Photo: October 2017 group crossing Dhampus Pass (credit: Natalie Wilson)

Congratulations to the group for completing Dhaulagiri Circuit. I would like to thank Nat, Pema and Sangram plus the rest of the team for their help and hard work.

The Mountain Company organises our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek twice a year in April and October. Our Dhaulagiri Circuit group in April 2018 is nearly guaranteed to run so please get in touch soon if you like to join this group.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Trip report for Lunana Snowman in Bhutan led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2017

Photo: Tshorim Lake before Gophu La pass
This is the ninth time The Mountain Company has organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan starting in Paro and finishing in Bumthang. Our Snowman 2017 went well and this group successfully made the full traverse through Lunana out to Bumthang. The Mountain Company has 100% track record of organising this challenging 28 day trek through the remote Bhutanese Himalaya.

This year we had fourteen trekkers signed up for Lunana Snowman and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from UK, USA, Australia, Singapore, Belgium and Denmark. Our 2017 Snowman group was led by Almas Khan and he has now completed this trek nine times too!

For our 2017 Snowman we had a strong and experienced local crew who have worked with us for many years. The two regular guides are Tashi and Tsering Dorje, I remember leading the first TMC Snowman trek with these two back in 2008! It has been wonderful to see both Tashi and Tsering develop as guides over the years coached by Almas and also we have invested in their training by sending them to Kathmandu for their Wilderness Medical Training at KEEP. Thanks Tashi and Tsering for all of your help over the years!

The cook, Sonam, and his kitchen helpers were new for last year's Snowman and as they did such a great job we requested their services again this year. I have heard from both Almas and group that the food was very good and has certainly improved since Sonam came on board. I have copied Almas’s comments on the food below:

“The quality of the food was very good and most of the clients commented they loved it. Hygiene standards by the entire kitchen crew were up to our standards. Quantity of food was adequate too.”


Photo: view from Karchung La
Overall the weather and conditions were favourable compared to previous years although this group had some rain & cloud crossing Karchung La into Lunana however they got lucky with stable & sunny weather on the exit passes over Gophu La and Saga La. We received weather forecasts of over 1m of snow for the day this group crossed the last passes over to Tso Chenchen as there was a low pressure system coming off the Bay of Bengal. However luckily this group was spared the extreme weather as the system tracked away from Bhutan at last minute! I have copied Almas’s assessment of weather and conditions below:

“The weather on the trip was very kind to us. Most of the time it only rained after we reached the camp. Not the best views at times. Rained and snowed on us while we walked on the day we walked over Karchung La to Tarina. Had excellent weather at the Tshorim lake and over the Gophu La. It was not as cold as I had expected. The lowest temperatures experienced were at Tshorim and Michigang -12. 8 Celsius at night outside and about -5 Celsius inside the tent in the coldest hour before dawn. Some group members found the trails a bit muddy - personally I have seen them worse on some previous treks."


Throughout our Lunana Snowman trek we receive bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at everestweather.com and this information is sent through to Almas on his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.


Our Snowman 2017 group made good progress and did not lose any days due to bad weather or other delays along the way. This year Almas decided to have two nights at Thanza to allow the group and crew to rest as the weather forecast was showing stable weather for a week allowing adequate time to cross Gophu La and Saga La.

Photo: Gophu La pass
Of interest on the day crossing Gophu La out of Lunana one of the cook boys saw a snow leopard while having a rest sitting on a rock near Geche Woma camp. Almas told me how this person was so startled that he dropped his chocolate bar (!) on the ground. Two members of the group also saw the snow leopard from afar as the cat quickly moved away. On further inspection of this area there were print mark seen in the sand that looked like snow leopard so we will take this is a confirmed snow leopard sighting! Blue sheep were also seen around Chomolhari Base Camp.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group and each night Almas checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress --->  see the way points overlaid onto a map for Lunana Snowman

The Mountain Company has a pledge through AITO Project Protect for our groups to collect at least 120kg of rubbish/ trash in the Himalaya and Karakoram during 2017. Our 2017 Lunana Snowman trek has collected 40kg of rubbish from the trails and around campsites and was carried out to the road head by the ponies during resupply at Laya and out to the end of the trek at Minchugang. Well done to Almas, crew and group!

Photo: Tsering weighing the rubbish collected on Snowman

Photo: baskets of rubbish collected


I have copied below feedback received from one member of the group now published on AITO review site:

"The Lunana Snowman trek is a major logistical challenge for the leader to organise horses and food over such a long remote trek. On this trip everything worked really smoothly. TMC offer the Bumthang exit to the trek which is much less frequently visited and we had a real sense of being in a quite different world in Lunana. The scenery is fantastic, the walk is long but most days are quite straightforward. There is a bit of a sting in the tail going over the last few passes but by then we were all pretty fit and acclimatized. The Mountain Company was very efficient. Potential trekkers are screened for suitability so the risk of being held up by someone unfit is minimised. From personal experience I can confirm this is important!"

Many thanks to Almas, Tsering Dorje, Tashi, Tsering, Sonam and rest of the crew for all of their hard work with organising and leading another successful Snowman trek. Thanks also to Kinley and Dawa in the office in Thimphu who have provided an excellent service with their logistics and planning for this long and remote trek.

We have now launched the dates and prices for Lunana Snowman 2018 on TMC website so please get in touch soon if you would like to join this group. We have already received strong interest and this group is likely to fill fast as Snowman 2017 was fully booked with fourteen trekkers by April over six months before departure date.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company